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Buying Local and Lowering Food Miles

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 21 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Carboncounted Co2 Carbon Dioxide Carbon

There’s a price to pay for everything item of food you buy at the supermarket. That price is not just how much it costs in money but also the food miles involved.

What are food miles? In a nutshell, it’s how far the food has to travel from where it’s grown, first to be processed, then packaged, and finally end up on the shelf. Often, that distance can be much higher than you think, and every single mile involved adds to the food’s carbon footprint.

That’s especially true for food grown overseas. Much of our produce, especially out of season fruit, comes from abroad, which definitely racks up the food miles. Those California strawberries, for example, have CO2 emission of five litres per kilogram. If you buy orange juice – and oranges, of course, are not a British fruit – it takes two glasses of petrol to get one glass of juice to your kitchen table. That’s a truly staggering figure.

What You Can Do About It
There was a time, and it wasn’t so long ago, when we bought food in season. We thought nothing of it – it was simply the way things were. As a result, food miles were low. Most produce was grown locally or at least within the UK.

By at least cutting back on the amount of foreign produce you buy, you can cut your carbon footprint. If you look on the supermarket shelves (and most of us buy our produce at the supermarket) the country of origin is stated for each item, and you can often even find the name of the grower.

Where you have an option, pick local or UK suppliers. You might find it costs a little more, as one of the attractions of foreign goods is that the labour costs are so much lower, which translates to a lower price, even after transportation.

If you look around, you’ll find that there are many seasonal options for locally produced fruit and veg. There might well be a pick-your-own farm not too far away, which means really fresh goods and a lot of fun for the kids, and you’ll generally find the prices very cheap.

Often local farmers will sell some produce from their own farms, so when you’re driving, it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled. Shop at a greengrocer’s if you have one near home, although they’re often difficult to find these days.

Meat and Fish
In the ads, we’re told that New Zealand lamb or Alaskan salmon is the best. They may or may not be, but the food miles attached to them are massive. Welsh lamb, or even English lamb and beef taste just as good, and you can buy salmon from the Shetlands or even closer to home.

In other words, you need to pay attention to sources. Try a local butcher – he’ll almost certainly source his meat from somewhere close to him (and don’t be afraid to ask him, he’ll probably appreciate it). Farm shops are wonderful places to buy, since often they’re actually attached to farms, and the same applies to farmer’s markets, which you can find in many places up and down the country these days.

Yes, it all takes more thought and time, but the results are worthwhile. Your produce, meat and fish will taste better, you’ll be supporting a local economy, and above all, you’ll be reducing your family’s carbon footprint.

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